Wow – it’s been a crazy holiday season! Lots of work, lots of play, some short travels, plenty of time with relatives and not quite enough time with some friends… It is certainly good to be back in the swing of regular work!
Through the holidays, as we were visiting people and their pets across the state, a constant challenge we faced was the kiddo doing whatever she could to get our attention. At one point, I recall reminding my husband to ignore her for something annoying but harmless that she was repeatedly doing to gain our attention. “Bad attention is better than no attention at all.” Sure enough, we walked away from her and it stopped… then she went on to the attention getting thing.
Rewarding for the good things, ignoring the bad, attention-seeking behavior is something that can work for both children and dogs. Recently, a colleague posted a note to our group seeking recommendations to divert a child who was repeatedly pestering her elderly dog. This is a child who has been taught since infancy what is appropriate and inappropriate with dogs, and could explain it to you if you asked. However, after some discussion within the group, someone suggested that it may be attention getting behavior on the part of the child. Bingo! There is a 9-month-old sibling as well as multiple dogs in the household with whom to compete for attention, and this appeared to be a successful attention-getting tactic, much to mom’s dismay. So mom determined that discussion-free time-outs would follow, along with diversionary tactics to give the child the attention she was seeking for doing appropriate behaviors.
How often I tell people in basic dog training courses to remember to reward the appropriate behaviors and ignore attention-seeking behaviors. This does not mean to ignore all bad behaviors; of course, if a puppy is destroying furniture, then a sharp interruption followed by a redirection would be better suited to protecting the furniture as well as the well-being of the pup. However, there are so many things that our kids and our dogs do to get our attention, with the thought that “bad attention is better than no attention at all.”
Yet, sometimes, ignoring the attention seeking behavior can prove extremely challenging. For the child who is screaming, or dog who is barking for attention, ignoring it could lead to a serious headache before the behavior finally goes away. What’s more, before a behavior disappears permanently, the appearance of an extinction burst may occur. An extinction burst is a sudden increase in the undesired behavior, or sometimes, a recurrence of the behavior after it appeared to have been extinct already. This is a natural part of the training process, and if the trainer or parent is consistent in not inadvertently rewarding the unwanted behavior, it will eventually go away completely. I have used this process with dogs as well as with my daughter with great success, though that extinction burst can be an exhausting challenge!
So, if your child or dog, or both of them together, are doing annoying or inappropriate things just to get your attention, take a breath and remember to ignore it (or give a silent, non-interactive time-out.) To quote Edward Counsel: ”Patience is stronger than force.” As challenging as patience can be sometimes, I will do all I can to remember that.